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Hajar Mountains

Whilst Qatar is flat, low-lying and relatively featureless, apart from Doha and its lovely beaches, Oman is dominated by the very craggy Hajar Mountains.

Visitors will also find quiet, Arab towns and villages, unlike Abu Dhabi City and Dubai and experience a more traditional Arab way of life. 

The capital of Oman, Muscat [Masqat], or "Muscat of Oman" lies on the Gulf of Oman and is an entirely different kind of city from Abu Dhabi and Dubai, because it does not have massively tall skyscrapers and high-rise apartments. Many of the buildings are low-rise buildings of a few stories, or are traditional two floor houses, a sparkling white in colour.

The Sultanate of Oman is an independent state adjoining the United Arab Emirates [UAE]. Indeed Oman is one of the few independent countries of the world that lies in two geographical parts.

The smaller of the two is the Musandam Peninsula. This is a beautiful, wild, mountainous enclave occupying the northern tip of the Arabic peninsula that juts into the sea at the Gulf of Hormuz, separating the Arabian Gulf in the west, from the Gulf of Oman to the east.

The Musandam Peninsula is east of Dubai and the north-eastern UAE emirate of Ras Al Khaimah, which lies on the Arabian Gulf.  

It is also north of the UAE emirate of Fujairah, which is on the Gulf of Oman. Musandam, whose capital is the quaint, traditional fishing port of Khasab, is sometimes called the Norway of the Middle East, since the high jagged cliffs of the rugged Hajar Mountains, which dominate Musandam, plunge directly and spectacularly into the sea. 

The indented coast is littered with amazing inlets and fjords, making it a feast for the eyes and a swimmer and diver's paradise.

The presence of beautiful coral beds just metres offshore also make it a major attraction for divers and snorkellers. The coral has fantastically colourful and varied wildlife, including stunning tropical fish, turtles and dolphins. Occasionally there are sharks, and even whales on the eastern, Gulf of Oman, side.   

Expatriates wishing to get away from the hustle and bustle of Dubai and Abu Dhabi flock to Musandam at weekends to enjoy their diving and snorkelling around these coral reefs.

A dhow trip into the fjords is a great way to sample the beauty of Musandam and its isolated coastal villages.

You can hire a private dhow trip to the fjords by bargaining with the dhow owners of Khasab. It is an experience you will never ever forget, sailing on the flat calm waters of those spectacular fjords surrounded by wild dolphins and turtles and immersed in solitude and peace and quiet.

Khasab can be reached by road, along the scenic coastal road from Ras al Khaimah in the UAE, passing some superb beaches  along the way.

Check on visa regulations before entering Oman. 

Visa regulations depend on where the individual comes from. They vary with nationality and period of stay in Oman.

People on a Dubai visit visa should not need a separate visa to enter Oman, but please check beforehand.

Another option for exploring Musandam is to hire a dhow in Dibba on the UAE east coast  of Fujairah  and then travelling  north along the Gulf of Oman coast.

The Evason Hideaway and Six Senses Spa just across the border in Musandam is a little slice of paradise in a secluded cove at  Zighy Bay, shared with a little  fishing village.

South of Fujairah is the vast main land mass of the Sultanate of Oman, which covers 104,780 square miles in all, about twice the size of the United Kingdom.

Oman is on the whole sparsely populated with 2,845,415 inhabitants in 2009, according to the World Bank. That is similar to the population of Wales, which is only 8015 square miles in area. However, some sources in 2010 put the population at well over 3 million.  

About 2 million of the inhabitants are Omanis, and the remainder are other foreign nationals. 

About half the population live on the north coast in the capital, Muscat of Oman and on the Batinah coastal plain to the
north-west of the city. 

About 200,000 live in the province of Dhofar in the south, where the biggest city is Salalah, the former capital of Oman.

Muscat of Oman [sometimes simply Muscat] has many attractions, including beautiful beaches, some great restaurants and cafes and the mesmerising old souk at Mutrah.

Outside Muscat you will find many historic towns and forts and some of the most stunning mountain and wadi scenery in the Middle East.

Salalah in the south is the country's second largest city.

Salalah has a very different climate from Muscat and the north, where summer temperatures can top 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Whilst the north is very hot and very dry, Salalah is relatively cool and wet in the summer with temperatures closer to a more pleasant 75 degrees Fahrenheit. The reason for this is its mountainous topography and geographical location.

Salalah is on the Arabian Sea coastline, not  far from the border with Yemen.  It is in the province of Dhofar which is very mountainous.

These mountains come into contact with moisture-laden warm winds from the Arabian Sea during June to September, creating welcome monsoon rains in the hills and mountains. The Arabs call this weather the Khareef. 

This  area around Salalah is very popular with foreign tourists during the monsoon season. There is even a highly popular and colourful Khareef Festival to celebrate the monsoon.

The central part of Oman is desert,especially the long eastern border area with Saudi Arabia through the Rub Al Khali, or Empty Quarter. There are no towns in the Rub Al Khali, just empty desert.

West of this is the main north/south road of Oman, from Salalah to towards Muscat of Oman and Dubai.

Oman also has narrow, fertile coastal strips, growing all sorts of fruits and vegetables and more rugged mountains at Jebel Akhdar in the north, west of  Muscat.

Oman is a wonderful varied country with stunning scenery of rugged mountains and desert; surprising greenery in the south and a beautiful coast-line with superb sandy beaches. 

Oman is indeed, one of the scenic jewels of the Middle East and very different from its neighbours along the Arabian Gulf coast. It is well worth visiting on any longish stay in Qatar, if it's only for a change of scenery.